Wednesday, June 1, 2011

3 multitasking tips for swamped writers


As I’m sure most of you do, I live a pampered life.

I rise at noon and summon my lady-in-waiting to attend to my grooming needs. While my personal assistant pays the household bills from my vast and endless checking account, the chef whips up a caviar omelet in the gourmet kitchen of my mansion.

If you believe that, I’m a better fiction writer than I thought.

The sad fact is that most authors have the same money and job woes as everyone else. Most of us balance day jobs and writing and family and sex toy parties and household demands. There’s inevitable overlap between obligations and plenty of moments when you freak the hell out because you can’t possibly do it all.

Not that I’d know anything about that.

I’ve come up with a few strategies for when I’m way beyond trying to keep my head above water and have settled for breathing through a cocktail straw from the bottom of the ocean.

Write fast or forget
My brain has a limited capacity for remembering things, and when I’m bombarded by a million tasks at once, it’s easy for good ideas to start leaking out my ears. While I try to keep a separation between my day job in marketing/public relations and my life as an author, it’s inevitable some of the ideas hitting me in the middle of the workday will pertain to the job I don’t happen to be doing at that moment.

I’ve learned to keep an email document open and addressed to myself either at the day job or at home. When I’m struck with a good plot idea in the middle of crafting a press release at the day job, I jot a fast note in the email and get right back to work. Likewise, if I’m at home editing a manuscript and an idea sneaks up on me for a media pitch at the day job, I make a note in the email addressed to my work account. At the end of the day, I hit “send” and know the tasks and ideas are preserved for when I’m in the right environment to do something about it.

Ask for help
I’ll admit it – I suck at this one. I’d generally rather remove my own kidney with a felt pen than admit I can’t do everything myself, but there are times I just have to pick up that Sharpie and be done with it. I hit a breaking point yesterday where I realized that if I truly intended to keep up with editing, writing, blogging, yard work, divorce proceedings, day job tasks, and household responsibilities, I would have to give up both eating and sleeping.

I finally cried uncle and asked my parents for help checking references on a potential housemate to replace one moving out at the end of the college term. Not only were Mom and Dad happy to help, but I think they secretly enjoyed playing private investigator. While my mother stalked the young prospect online, my father called everyone from his high school guidance counselor to his cardiologist. The kid got the all-clear, and my parents got the reassurance of knowing my new housemate is unlikely to dress up in my underwear and stab me with a letter opener in the middle of the night.

Most importantly, I gained a few hours I desperately needed to make a dent in my workday.

Timing is everything
I’ve experimented a lot with finding balance in my schedule, and I’ve learned a few things about what works for me. Blogging is a huge time commitment at this point in my career, between daily posts here and weekly posts at The Debutante Ball and the day job. I’ve tried getting a jump on things by pre-writing a week’s worth of posts and scheduling them to go up at different times. This works great for plenty of bloggers, but it’s not the best method for me. Large chunks of time are precious and sacred, and when I get one, it’s best used for something meaty like editing a manuscript or writing new chapters.

There are evenings when I drag my butt home from the day job with just enough energy to lie down in front of the fridge and open my mouth hoping something edible falls in. After that, I usually have the free time and mental capacity to tackle a smaller, bite-sized task like a blog post or an interview. That means weeknights tend to be my best times for maximum productivity on those smaller tasks. Knowing this about myself, I can manage my schedule in ways that allow me to keep weeknights open for blog posts while preserving big chunks of time on weekends for tackling bigger writing projects.

Do you have any tips you use for multitasking or budgeting your time between “writing life” and “real life?” Please share!

We could all use the help.

19 comments :

Becky said...

2:30 AM? Looks like you're still giving up sleep.

I want to first say that multitasking tends to make my writing more bland. If I want spice, I need my full concentration on one thing at a time.

The closest thing I do to multitasking would be laundry. Throw a load in, write for half an hour, move laundry to the dryer, put in a load, etc.

Laundry is the only thing I allow myslef to multitask on while writing, because the breaks are short and the time spent writing is long.

What do I do when the laundry is dry? Why, pile it in a basket of course! That can wait until later!

Matthew MacNish said...

I can't do the blogging ahead of time thing, I'm just not wired that way. But I do find myself constantly sending myself text messages when I think of ideas that pertain to writing. It would be much easier to email, but I'm rarely in front of a computer when I'm not at work.

Malin said...

Public commute! I would never have managed NaNoWriMo (50 000 words, 30 days) if I hadn't been commuting to work (a 40 min trip each way)at the time. All those moments waiting for something else are opportunities for writing and plotting.

Danica Avet said...

Just like you, Tawna, I used to e-mail myself with story ideas. When I'd get home, I'd have about 25 e-mails to sort through. My first manuscript was written in e-mail.

I usually give myself the weekends off from everything. Once in a while, I'll write on Saturday and Sunday, but I find when I do that, I feel more stressed because I haven't given myself a rest. You need a break from blogging, other social media, and writing, or you'll go nuts. At least that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Danielle Spears said...

Oh, Tawna, I feel your pain. Minus the book deal, but plus a 1 yo boy. My best cure is to go on a vacation or take a day off. WE will give you a day off! We'll still be here when you get back!

I recently went through this crisis as well, and realized I was neglecting my teeth. Where it used to bug me to go to sleep without brushing them, sometimes I'd be too tired to brush. And yes, I went to bed WITHOUT brushing my teeth. And then I was watching some show that talked about longevity, and taking care of the pearly whites was the first thing. Moral of the story: Take care of yourself and don't forget to brush. XOXO

Patty Blount said...

Ha! Funny because this morning, on my way to work, it HIT me - I have to kill a secondary character. Like bowling pins, a whole series of events unfold from this one catalyst that greatly improve my current plot.

I mulled it all over as I drove and as soon as I got to work, emailed it home.

When I'm home, I frequently leave myself voice mails at 3 AM when some documentation issue resolves itself in my subconscious (or unconscious) mind.

Mary said...

Right there with you! Unfortunately, I kind of have to throw my hands up during the month of May because it's the end of school with testing, grades, more testing and total craziness.

I do keep a composition notebook with me at all times for ideas, though, and crazy stuff my students do/say (helps when I write YA).

JUST KEEP SWIMMING..I mean WRITING!

dianehenders said...

Hi Tawna! Please forgive my ignorance - I'm fairly new to blogging, and I'm curious as to why you blog every day.

Don't get me wrong, I love your blog, but I don't think your readers would feel neglected if you only blogged two or three days a week.

Am I missing a strategic piece here, or could you cut yourself some slack by posting less frequently?

Tawna Fenske said...

Becky, I was going to assure you that I set all my posts to go live at 2:30 so it really doesn't mean I was up that late, but then I remembered I was finishing this up at 1 a.m. I suppose that's not much better.

Matthew, the texting is a good idea. I suppose there's probably some function on my iPhone that would make this easier, huh?

Malin, oooh, I wish my town had better public transportation.

Danica, yeah, that's why I stick with the single email sent at the end of the workday. I used to come home to a dozen new emails and it just made m feel overwhelmed all over again.

Danielle, you know, I can't say I've ever forgotten toothbrushing! I admire you for being able to balance a wee one on top of everything. I don't think I could do it.

Patty, how often do you forget you've left yourself a voicemail and get all excited to see the little light blinking? I used to do that ALL THE TIME.

Mary, good idea on the notebook! I've just accepted that June will be nutty, but things will hopefully improve a bit after that.

Diane, I agree blogging isn't necessary every day, and I can name plenty of bloggers who are successful with a less aggressive schedule. For me (as a no-name debut author) it was important to use this platform to build my brand and a solid following. My research showed daily blogging was a key part of building the momentum I wanted, and I knew I could keep up the schedule at least initially. While I don't think I'd be wise to scale back at this point with a book hitting shelves in less than two months, I may consider doing it in the fall after things slow down a bit. Thanks for the suggestion :)

And thanks for reading, guys!

Tawna

Jen Stayrook said...

I'm still trying to manage all of this. Between taking the baby tot to and from daycare, going to work, taking care of him, writing, etc, I'm exhausted. LUCKILY, Hubs is a doll and does most of the housework and cooking. It keeps me sane. I suggest hiring a cheap labor worker to prepare your meals and pour them into your mouth.

Also, giving up showering and looking presentable saves A LOT of time.

Allie Sanders said...

I gave up looking pretty. Seriously, I save hours every week by no longer brushing my hair (ponytail FTW!) or putting on make-up. It's easy to find something to wear when all of your shirts are black and all your pants are blue. OK, so some of my shirts have colors but I'm not really kidding about the rest. I also gave up hanging up laundry. Why do that when you pull it down two days later? Most importantly, I ignore that "write every day" advice. I waste more time doing that then setting aside a day and writing. Things are sure to change again when I get a second job though. Wonder what household chaos I'll ignore then...

Linda G. said...

When I'm really pressed for time, I wear my clothes into the shower. Just lather, rinse, and blow-dry. Presto! Personal hygiene and laundry taken care of at the same time. ;)

Jen J. Danna said...

Great tips for those of us that are majorly squeezed for time (point in fact - I've been trying to get back to this post to leave a comment since this morning! *sigh*). I especially liked your last tip about scheduling large vs. small blocks of time for different tasks and I think that might be something that I could use. THANKS!

Also, good for you for asking for help. I stink at that and need to learn to do it more often. Kudos to you to getting the help you needed!

Carolyn Arnold said...

As far as a tip in finding balance, I'd say set goals for yourself when it comes to your writing, but make them realistic ones. Once you've reached them, don't make the other counterpart of an active writer take over - you know the one that says 'oh you can do more'. Bask in the accomplishment, and allow yourself time for other things.

As far as on a daily basis, my best work is done first thing in the morning. I dedicate this to writing, editing, blog posts, network, etc before heading off to the day job.

On my lunch break, I usually network, and write or edit (depending on what phase I'm at). After work, if I have domestic responsibilities I need to do, they get done before I get distracted.

...maybe I don't have much balance? well, at least the writing and networking gets done lol

Jeffe Kennedy said...

First, I've learned to trust that I won't forget ideas. I like your method, but I find that, when I sit down to write, what I was thinking about flows back in. I think that's part of trusting yourself as a writer.

My second technique isn't popular, but I've learned to do the "must do" things first in the day. The day job demands certain hours, but blogging, exercise, writing - they don't. So I do them first. And no, I'm *not* a morning person. That's how it has to happen for me!

Claire Dawn said...

Nice!

My tips:

Always keep something to write with. It can be a notebook and a pen, a Kindle, lipstick and a mirror...

Take a notebook/laptop with you anywhere that you may be sitting round waiting for a while- like the dentist,or waiting in the car when you have to pick up friends or fam.

atombaby said...

Well, writing is my life so wherever I go, I keep a mini notebook in my purse to jot down words, ideas, phrases, ideas, anything. Anything that inspires me. And I've come to learn that scheduling is everything. I don't know if it'd work for everyone, but I give myself an hour to do this or that. As long as there isn't money involved, or a life/death issue, after that hour's up, that's it. Time to move on to the next task. If I don't do this, nothing ever gets done. Keeping my scattered brain in line is tough!

Tari said...

Well, you would think I'd have plenty of time since I'm writing full time at the moment. When my boys were young I wrote freelance for magazines and newspapers. Then I started homeschooling them and quit earning a paycheck altogether. Now that they're all in college and we're used to me earning NO MONEY. I'm home writing fiction, but I'm also the only one who does any shopping, cooking, bill paying, etc., and because friends and family know I don't have a 'real' job, they often think I'm available to help with things they can't get done. I'm learning to say NO....and to delegate. This has required letting go of guilt. I'm not great at it yet....but I'm getting better!!!

Katherine Wertheim, CFRE said...

Ihave this one place that I write down all my blog ideas. It's in my schedule book, just at the top of whatever page is open. Whenever I need a blog idea, I page through the days until I find one I like. I find that it makes blogging a lot easier.